Day: January 27th, 2007

In the Heights

Saturday, January 27th, 2007 | All Things, Arts, Eats

Several recent articles spotlighting Jackson Heights as an ethnic food destination prompted me to hop off the 7 at 74th Street-Roosevelt Avenue. Just steps from the elevated station, in the heart of Little India, and doors down from the famed Jackson Diner, I happened upon the window for Delhi Palace Sweets, a tiny, fragrant offshoot of the restaurant next door. A steady stream of customers piled inside for samosas and pakoras hot from the fryer, pastries and Indian sweets by the pound. Although a price list was posted on the wall, I couldn’t match most of the names to the items. And since none of the trays of multi-hued pudding wedges and laddus were labeled, next time (and there will be a next time) I’ll willingly take my chances and point.

Delhi Palace Sweets

Delhi Palace Sweets

This afternoon, though, we were in Jackson Heights to hit the Burmese Diner. Chowhounds first keyed into this new addition to the neighborhood last November; Sietsema followed up with his review in the Voice a month later, using words like “awesome,” “delicious” and “irresistible.”

Prior to this, I’d had little – actually: no – experience with Burmese food; it’s not all that common in New York, and I would have been hard-pressed even to describe what the cuisine (a mixture of Chinese, Indian, Thai and local Myanmar influences) would be. After locating the unassuming storefront with relative ease — down the block from critically-acclaimed Isaan, i.e., northeast Thai, restaurant Zabb — we were about to find out.

Burmese Cafe

The menu was a mix of familiar and unfamiliar. We started off with one of the house specialties: the Lephet Thoke, or tea leaf salad — a brightly seasoned plate of shredded cabbage and thin-sliced tomatoes, studded with fermented, crunchy green tea leaves, bean sprouts, garlic, sesame seeds and peanuts, tossed with dried shrimp and fish sauce, two other flavor staples of Burmese cuisine. It smelled and tasted unlike anything I’d ever had before. The tea aroma was strong and pungent, and the texture was crunchy and smooth, dry and oily all at once – in truth, probably something of an acquired taste, though I did find myself relishing it more after that first surprise bite. We followed up with crispy gram fritters: crusty outside/moist inside, yellow lentil, ginger and garlic pucks, accompanied by a bright-red tomato cilantro sauce. The menu offered “Burmese-style Chinese” (kung pao chicken?), but we stuck to the Burmese curries: a tamarind-laced version, in which swam several chunks of skin-on, bone-in chicken. It was delicious.

Tea Leaf Salad

Gram Fritters

Chicken Curry

The décor was utilitarian, with a few special touches: costumed Burmese marionettes hung along one wall, and a Buddhist shrine stood in the corner, next to the big screen television. At one point, the friendly staff treated us to a rousing karaoke rendition of Burmese pop songs.

You most likely know it as Myanmar, but it will always be Burma to me.

Later still, a reading at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater on logic-defying Waverly Place, for a new play by Andy Bragen titled, appropriately enough, Food Porn.

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Cross on the green, not in between

Saturday, January 27th, 2007 | All Things

In the 1990s, Queens Boulevard was nicknamed the “Boulevard of Death,” a reference to the many people who were struck and killed by cars while trying to cross the 10+ lane thoroughfare. Between 1993 and 2000, there were 72 recorded pedestrian deaths. Citizens groups like Transportation Alternatives have covered the situation avidly, prompting a “Pedestrian Safety Study” by the Department of Transportation, after which the city instituted a series of initatives: (slightly) lowering the boulevard speed limits, installing red light cameras and closing one lane to traffic on the service road. The Department also erected fences along the road to reduce jaywalking, increased pedestrian crossing times and posted warning signs like this one in Elmhurst:

Pedestrian Killed

A more vivid graphic would feature a person flying off the hood of a speeding car, but that probably would be considered poor taste.

Pedestrian fatalities on Queens Boulevard have decreased significantly since the DOT’s re-engineering, dropping to 4 in the last three years, 11 since 2001.

Not to shift the blame to pedestrians, but at least once a week I witness some crazed fool make a mad sprint against the light, leaving the squeal of tires or the blare of indignant car horns in his — yes, usually: his — wake. Or perhaps worse: the oblivious ones who wander into traffic as they gab into their cell phones, rock out on their iPods or send messages on their Blackberries. Why, people? Have we become a society that proposes laws to enforce the lessons we should have learned in elementary school?

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